A novel prosecution

Literature is under attack in Turkey. Tomorrow, prize-winning novelist Elif Shafak will go on trial in Istanbul over comments about the Armenian genocide that a character makes in her best-selling novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. The offensive comment: “I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish ...

606990_Shafak5.jpg
606990_Shafak5.jpg

Literature is under attack in Turkey. Tomorrow, prize-winning novelist Elif Shafak will go on trial in Istanbul over comments about the Armenian genocide that a character makes in her best-selling novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. The offensive comment: "I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915," says Dikran Stamboulian, a minor Armenian character in the book. And for that reference to a genocide, Ms. Shafak is being charged with insulting "Turkishness." The case against her is being led by ultranationalists, one of whom recently linked the possibility of Turkey's accession to the EU and Ms. Shafak's novel as stripping away Muslim identity in Turkey, mostly by those who, like Ms. Shafak, "support a more open Turkey,...world citizens, half-Turks." 

Unfortunately, Shafak is hardly the first to be charged with this broad and ridiculous offense. More than 60 writers and publishers have been prosecuted under new laws introduced 18 months ago. And though Turkey has long had restrictions on its writers, it seems that, with Turkey undergoing a real identity crisis over whether to seek EU membership, there's never been more at stake. We'll be sure to watch the case.

Literature is under attack in Turkey. Tomorrow, prize-winning novelist Elif Shafak will go on trial in Istanbul over comments about the Armenian genocide that a character makes in her best-selling novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. The offensive comment: “I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915,” says Dikran Stamboulian, a minor Armenian character in the book. And for that reference to a genocide, Ms. Shafak is being charged with insulting “Turkishness.” The case against her is being led by ultranationalists, one of whom recently linked the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the EU and Ms. Shafak’s novel as stripping away Muslim identity in Turkey, mostly by those who, like Ms. Shafak, “support a more open Turkey,…world citizens, half-Turks.” 

Unfortunately, Shafak is hardly the first to be charged with this broad and ridiculous offense. More than 60 writers and publishers have been prosecuted under new laws introduced 18 months ago. And though Turkey has long had restrictions on its writers, it seems that, with Turkey undergoing a real identity crisis over whether to seek EU membership, there’s never been more at stake. We’ll be sure to watch the case.

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.